Monday, November 26, 2007

Folk logic computing for every gadget

Midnight blogging! I was thinking of all the science fiction about smart houses, like Smart House (Kate Wilhelm) or Remains (Mark Tiedemann). I don't want to talk to my house, and I don't want it to be a master controller of Everything in my living environment. Instead I want all my household gadgets to be more like my Chumby. I don't want to freaking "program" my VCR or my coffeemaker. I want to swipe the widgets that my friends hack up. A couple of years ago I talked at the first Barcamp about social networks and trusting small areas of expertise. But now I think that idea will be played out better through folk logic. My co-housing mate obsesses on automatic control of our houses' heating and so I bought a fairly cheap gadget with the most annoying user interface ever and now can never control the damned heat level of my house without consulting a 10 page user manual and going bleep bleep bleep oh whoops hell beep beep beep damn oh I give up, and then it reverts to how it was 12 hours later anyway. Screw that. The damn thing should run linux, like everything else should, and then I could log in to it and tell it to use Max's program which he had the patience to set up. Likewise, I don't care enough about TV to even mess with Tivo. (Count the number of media players in the world that right now are flashing 12:00, 12:00, 12:00, 12:00.) I would rather just copy my friend Laura's setup because I am likely to like anything she likes; we have the same taste in many areas, as you can see from our LibraryThing profiles. There are areas where I put in a lot of time and have tons of expertise, so my friends or fans would rip whatever widgety things I hacked up.

I can't quite imagine how or why we would program our fridges or bread machines or coffee makers but they sure as hell have oddly sophisticated computer chips in them already, and someone will think of something good. So why not -- my coffee maker should be truly "programmable" and have some kind of open source layer so that people can write stuff for it.

Everything computery should be hackable. I'm not going to have the time to hack everything, but someone in my social network will.

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Wear your fandom

Two things that got me thinking today:

A bracelet flash drive in pink and blue rubber. Like jelly bracelets but with 512 MB of space! If I were a teenager I would be wearing my chat program and archives here, and my private diaries, and maybe a little music. Making it a bracelet is a great idea - who doesn't hate the usual drive design with the little caps that come off and get lost?

To this thought I will add the lovely illustration of Moore's Law: 512 MB drives for 99 cents.

I realize I'm jaded now and expect to carry around a month's worth of music with no repeats in an Altoids tin. Very soon we'll have nice jewelry for our hard drives, and not just cheap jelly bracelets.

If I were a computer manufacturer or a media conglomerate I'd be doing stuff like putting Buffy DVD collections onto fancy Buffy themed bracelets. We aren't quite to the point of carrying all human-generated information on a tiny holocube crystal earring. But the DVD bracelets will be great - have your stuff around handy to watch any time. There's all sorts of stuff to put onto wearable computers, but probably videos will be the killer. Spiffing up the jewelry with visible identifiers or particular styles means you'll be able to wear your fandom.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hacktastic Wiki Wednesdays coming up

I've been organizing Wiki Wednesdays for 7 months now! It's really fun.

We're meeting in Palo Alto this month, in fact, tomorrow night, and as we have several Socialtext developers here from out of town, they'll be our featured speakers. The always entertaining Ingy döt Net will be talking about his new love of Javascript and his "Stax" hacks for Socialtext. Melissa Ness, our product manager, designer, and cat herder, will be speaking about wiki UI design. Fantastic Perl and wiki fiends Casey West and Kevin Jones will also speak up about their work and wiki projects in development.

Meanwhile, the pre-party continues to happen at my house tonight with dinner and drinks and hot tubbing. Ingy and our other co-worker Lyssa had to lift me in and out of the hot tub last night and then they hung out in bed with me while I blogged and they hacked. We egged Ingy and fed him whiskey on as he started putting all his Javascript hacks into their own Socialtext workspace on our server, and then transcluding them across different wikis. Um! Does that count as work time?

So you see that this month's Wiki Wednesday will be especially awesome. We have that team synergy thing going.

Or did I scare you?

Do show up, tomorrow night, at Socialtext's co-working office in Palo Alto, 695 High Street, 6:30pm. If you want to give a lightning talk or demo, let me know.

In other wiki event news:

Wikipedia meetup for November
There will be a Wikimedia meetup in San Francisco, Saturday, Nov. 10. I hear there will be Special Out of Town Guests. Details are still evolving here:

December Wiki Wednesday
Next month, December 5th, our Wiki Wednesday speakers will be Philip Neustrom and Arlen Abraham, WikiSpot and DavisWiki developers.

RCC 2008
Recent Changes Camp 2008 organizing has not kicked off yet, but I believe it will be in San Francisco or in the Bay Area, March 2008.

Wikimedia moving to SF
I am super happy that Wikimedia Foundation is moving to San Francisco. That will really boost our already fantastic wiki community here in the Bay Area.


And a final thought about events and gender.

In conversation with Sarah Dopp about BlogWorldExpo, I thought over my own track record as an organizer. Out of 11 speakers for Wiki Wednesday, I would like to point out that the gender ratio is nearly even, at 7 men and 5 women. It's not like that took special effort, honestly.

I also consider that I have done a decent job of being even-handed and community-minded, promoting Wiki Ohana across many different wiki companies and communities, inviting speakers and participants from Blue Oxen, WikiHow, Twiki, PBwiki, Confluence, Wiktionary, WikiSpot, and Wikipedia, as well as researchers and academics from Stanford, Northwestern, and Xerox PARC. In fact, this is the first month I have had speakers or even demos from Socialtext. I have to say, I'm happy to work for a company that sponsors me to do this as part of my job, without requiring me to do any sort of special marketing or promotion.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Top Ten Useful Mobility Gadgets

Here's my top picks for useful hacks for cripples.

Think about getting some of these for older people who might need help but don't want to be seen as disabled. Seriously, once they try a bathtub rail they'll never go back. The boomer generation has not really tapped into all this. I don't even know what you call the generation before boomers... but they're hopeless, they won't use it till they're losing it. I dunno, maybe if you make it all tie dyed or decorate it with hippie beads, or make that junk look like a ridiculous fancy sports car. Gen X will be so much easier, they will go for the duct tape and stickers as I have. We're cheap that way. Pretend it's a skateboard... whatever...

And now, the top 10!

1) A good wheelchair

Beg, borrow, or steal a really nice, light chair. You could always boot someone else out of theirs if they're more crippled than you are. I like my Quickie x-frame but I'd rather have a nifty Ti-lite, Zephyr, or Boing. If you are in one and you see me watch out because I might kick your ass.

2) Fancy walkers

Walkers with a built in place to park your butt and a bike basket on the front. I've never had one but they appear to rock. There is a certain panache to the old-school ones with tennis balls on the back legs. But the new-style walkers seem way more useful for shopping or standing (sitting) in line. (Although I always want to slap people who har-har and comment that they wish they could sit down in line too. Hey, dumbass, want to sit down? Just sit on the floor then, nothing is stopping you, no need to comment on my wheelchair...)

3) A reacher/grabber

Any of them are okay, but I like one with a textured gripping claw. I can pick stuff up off the floor with my 3-foot long robotic cyborg arm! I can get coffee mugs from off the shelves way up high!

4) A bathtub rail
Lumex makes a great portable one, very easy to install. It's like a rubberized vise grip that grabs onto the rim of your bathtub. It makes getting in and out of the bathtub easy and not scary.

They seriouly market this shit all wrong. It looks hospitally and geriatric. They need to be all like "COOL-ASS GNARLY FREAKY BATHTUB RAIL". And it needs to have flames.

5) Fancy canes

Oh there are such fabulous fancy canes out there. Flowered ones, scrolly gold ones, and most of them fold up in segments. Mod it up with a velcro strap to keep it closed. There is even a vibrating cane! File off its sharp handle edges for a little more ergonomics in your vibrating fun.

6) Pockets

Get pockets in your clothes. Seriously now! A guayabera is very nice - a Cuban shirt with 2 top and 2 bottom pockets. Why get up. Just carry your junk all around with you. Photographer vests are good. What the hell, who cares if they're ugly, they're useful.

7) Duct tape and stickers

Huzzah, duct tape! Modify anything! Build pockets for your crutches or a cup holder for your wheelchair. Then, decorate them.

8) Phone holster

Wear your phone on your belt. Don't put things in your back pockets any more. You have to lean forward to get them out of your pockets. Screw that.

9) The perfect wheelchair shopping cart

No one has invented this yet, but I thought of two ways to do it.

- Easy-install clamps that would go from the lower front of the chair to the lower back of a child-size shopping cart.

- a lap basket that clamps onto the chair's sides, so it hovers just off your lap and the weight doesn't rest on you.

10) Booze and painkillers

I just had a seriously painful nerve conduction study where I got like 20 zillion electric shocks to my leg with needle electrodes and this taser thing and they also wiggled the needles. While I was crying and screaming and naked and covered in snot. Now I can't walk even more. I swear to god. I'm already crippled, now I have to be tortured? Pass the bottle please. Again.

I'll just go drool over the chairs on that Colours site again... thanks...

No, wait, I have some honorable mentions for useful gadgets. Shelves, heating pads, electric blankets, sippy cups, trays, and keys on straps around your neck! Add more in comments!

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